July 25, 2014

Around the State

| 7/1/1998
ALACHUA

The county's largest private business, Energizer Power Systems, laid off 136 employees, about 10% of its work force, in response to sluggish sales of its nickel-cadmium battery. Earlier this year, the battery manufacturer dropped plans for a $70 million lithium-ion plant in the area.

DUVAL/NASSAU COUNTIES

Two paper companies that employ about 2,000 in northeast Florida are merging. Jefferson-Smurfit Corp., Missouri, and Chicago's Stone Container (now Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.) own three paper mills, three box plants and other facilities in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach and Yulee. Company officials say job cuts won't be severe, but economic development officials fear hefty job losses.

GILCHRIST COUNTY

Water bottling company AquaPenn began production this spring, plans to employ about 40 by year-end and could triple that number with expansions.

GREEN COVE SPRINGS

As part of downtown revitalization, local officials hope to buy the historic Qui Si Sana hotel for $250,000 and turn it over to private investors for offices or shopping. The hotel covers a city block and is the last remaining from the city's tourism heydays in the late 1800s.

JACKSONVILLE

Communications Alliance Group of Matrixx Marketing, the former AT&T Solutions Customer Care, is cutting 150 jobs due to lower than expected revenues at the telephone-based customer service operation.

NORTHEAST

In the 15-county region, storms earlier this year caused damage estimated at $20 million to roadways, infrastructure and businesses. Gilchrist ($7.9 million) and Suwannee ($5.5 million) counties were hardest hit.

OCALA

Miami-based Associated Grocers of Florida, a grocery wholesaler, opened a 696,000-square-foot distribution center in Ocala and hired about 75 workers. It plans to expand to 200 by January. A center in Tampa employing about 100 people was folded into the Ocala operation.

ST. AUGUSTINE

McGurn Investment, Gainesville, wants to buy 11 city-owned acres downtown on the San Sebastian River for a marina, retail shops, condos and a hotel.

CONVENTION CENTERS

It's A Shifting Landscape...

...for meeting planners considering northeast Florida. A new St. Johns County Convention Center and World Golf Village Resort Hotel at the World Golf Village lifts the region up a notch for resort meetings and puts competitive heat on nearby Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Amelia Island Plantation to the north in Nassau County. In downtown Jacksonville, a planned Adam's Mark Hotel with 950 rooms and 127,000 square feet of convention space will become the region's second largest venue if it's completed in early 2000. City officials were to vote in late June on $13 million in property tax breaks and a donation of $8 million in riverfront property.

The likely addition of Adam's Mark has thrown into question the fate of the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the region's largest convention site with 165,000 square feet of meeting space. Without an adjacent hotel, the Prime Osborn has never taken off. About 80% of those who attend events at the former railroad station, converted in 1986, are from the area. Each year, Prime Osborn receives $400,000 to $500,000 in city subsidies. Meanwhile, a new meeting facility opening at University of North Florida later this year already is siphoning local events from Prime Osborn's calendar.

The real problem is too few hotel rooms that can be set aside for conventions. On average, only 350 of 1,314 rooms are available downtown in midweek. "We turn groups away," says Angel Landry, spokeswoman for Jacksonville's Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city is attracting more new hotels, but those are largely filling strong demand from business travelers. After more than a decade of difficulty finding investors, a deal for a Marriott Hotel next to the Prime Osborn was worked out, with the city chipping in $17 million in incentives. But now with competition from Adam's Mark, the key Marriott investor, Pittsburgh-based Interstate Hotels Corp., was expected to pull out.

- Jane Tanner

Meeting Places Facility Size (Sq. Ft.) Largest Room Hotel Rooms

Prime Osborn Convention Center* 165,000 78,500 -

Adam's Mark Hotel** 127,000 43,200 950

Amelia Island Plantation 50,000 11,165 700

University of North Florida*** 45,000 8,000 -

Sawgrass Marriott Resort 43,000 8,000 508

World Golf Village Resort Hotel &

St. Johns County Convention Center 40,000 30,000 300

PHILANTHROPY

Education Angels

The Davis family, founders of Winn-Dixie Stores (NYSE-WIN), is giving $20 million to Jacksonville University (JU), contingent on matching grants, to fund a new five-story building for the Davis College of business and to revamp its curriculum. JU has about 1,650 full-time students.

The gift, largest in the 48-year-old private school's history, ranks among the most munificent received by any university in the state; The Davis family generosity matches the record for a single donation at University of Florida and surpasses a $16 million gift to Florida State University. But the height of patronage to Florida education may date back to 1986 and a gift of $56.25 million in cash and stocks to the University of Miami from James L. Knight, a founder of communications company Knight-Ridder, which owns the Miami Herald.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Northeast, Business Florida

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